By Jasper Fforde
On an alternate Earth, a brutal ice age dominates the planet and four months a year, the human population hibernates in order to survive. A pharmaceutical company named Hiber Tech has developed Morphenox, a drug that induces dreamless sleep. Thus an individual, after bulking up with fatty foods, can sleep away their winters. Now to keep these thousands of slumberers safe there is the Winder Consuls; or for want of a better designation, Winter Police.
Charlie Worthing, a young man raised in a government orphanage, is recruited as a Winter Consul and sent to the most remote sector of the empire. There he discovers a mixed-bag of non-sleepers. Apparently Morphenox isn’t always one hundred percent safe and he learns that a small percentage of users awaken early…brain dead. They’re called the Nighwalkers and having little or no cognitive capabilities, are trained in doing repetitive menial task. If they are unable to function even at this animal level, they are deployed; i.e. terminated and their body parts sold.
Then there are the insomniacs who refuse to take Morphenox and prefer to endure the frigid times as best they can without succumbing to mindnumbing boredom. There are also entire clans known as Villains, who live out in the country and also refuse to take part in hibernation. Among them is the legend of a Winter monster known as the Gronk. The Gronk seeks and out targets that are “unworthy” and eliminates them while singing Broadway showtunes.
This quick introduction to Winter leaves the naïve Charlie afloat as he tries to discern who among his new acquaintances is telling him the truth and who are carrying out their own secret agendas. All of which center around the rumored possibility that there exist a viral dreamscape that connects people via their dreams.
Jasper Fforde’s tale is strange, original, funny and totally captivating. At its core is the essence of good vs. evil, reality vs. dreams and how they can easily become confused in a landscape that is devoid of both natural and human warmth. “Early Riser” is both mesmerizing and unsettling. In the end it is a reading experience the reader will remember long after the last page has been finished.